Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly


Nancy A. Wright


In August of 1996, in an effort to "end welfare as we know it", Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 ("the Act"). The Act terminates welfare entitlement programs which have provided crucial safety nets for indigent families for the past sixty-two years. The Act also mandates that states impose work requirements and time limits on the length of time poor families can receive public assistance. In addition, the Act permits states to deny assistance to teenage mothers or to children born to parents more than ten months after the family went on welfare.

Since more than two-thirds of the 14 million people eligible for welfare checks are children, any welfare reform scheme that pushes parents abruptly off the rolls or refuses extra benefits for additional offspring is the equivalent of governmental child abuse since it will spawn a generation of hungry and hopeless American children. In an effort to throw out the bath water of a flawed welfare system, these plans threaten to toss out the baby as well. This is clearly not the desired result of enlightened welfare reform.

The author suggests alternative ways to reform the current welfare morass while at the same time encouraging economic independence and replacing the specter of governmental child abuse with the vision of a governmental commitment that all American children will be provided with the basic essentials of life. In Part I, the author describes the demographics of families on the poverty continuum, including both welfare recipients, members of the working poor and their children. In Part II, the author discusses and dispels some of the most prevalent myths regarding welfare recipients, which form the premises underlying welfare reform provisions involving time limits, family caps and terminating assistance to teenage parents. In Part III, the author suggests several ways to regain some of the costs of providing enlightened social programs. Finally, in Part IV, the author describes humane and effective alternatives for reforming welfare with the goal of enabling all those on the poverty continuum to achieve economic independence without the threat of governmental child abuse through sacrificing the health and well-being of America's impoverished children.